Noilly Prattle: Taking Meaningful Action

Monday, December 17, 2012

Taking Meaningful Action

Sasumata Demonstration

     Yet again, the United States, has experienced a mass killing spree in a school. This time the victims were very young children mowed down by semi-automatic weapons fire. These kinds of atrocities have been occurring with such regularity, that they now seem the rule more than the exception. The anatomy of these killing sprees has also become routine. The loner apparently looking to go out in a blaze of glory finally turns the gun on himself. Then the media frenzy begins and the story is milked from every possible angle to achieve the maximum sensational effects: the agonized survivors wringing their hands and asking the unanswerable question—why?; media interviewers with microphone in your face asking “how you feel about all this”; the search for family and acquaintances of the perpetrator to delve into his [so far always a male] background and psychology; interviews with scholars and pundits analyzing what's wrong with our society that we have such regular and horrendous atrocities. The post-mortem goes on and on until the viewing public finally tires of it and moves on to some other sensational event, waiting for the next mass killing spree, and so on.
        Here in Osaka a few years ago there was a similar mass killing at an elementary school. It quite shocked the Japanese people to the core considering that Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world. At 10:15 in the morning of June 8, 2001, 37-year-old former janitor Mamoru Takuma entered the school armed with a kitchen knife and began stabbing numerous school children and teachers. He killed eight children, mostly between the ages of seven and eight, and seriously wounded thirteen other children and two teachers.
training in the use of sasumata
       Authorities acted swiftly and decisively setting up a program of self-defense to train teachers to handle such incidents should they occur again. The program included the use of “tools” to be used in fending off an armed attacker. In the traditional Japanese cultural ethos, this would be a collective effort by as many teachers as possible working together to fend of the attacker, buying time, until the police can be notified and arrive on the scene.
        Japan has one of the strictest gun control regimes in the world. So, fortunately, from a certain point of view, mass killers aren't likely to use even a hand gun, let alone semi-automatic weapons in Japan. Their weapon of choice is usually a knife, far less deadly in terms of numbers of dead, and more easily subdued by a determined defense and restraint effort by cooperating trained people.
        The main tools used in over 90% of public schools throughout the country are a two-pronged restraining tool called a "sasumata" and pepper spray. They are kept in plain sight and convenient to reach and grab by trained and rehearsed staff. They are actually relatively inconspicuous and seem to blend into the decor of the classroom and halls.
        Granted the United States has a far more serious and intractable problem with school security than Japan. The problem is directly related to the easy access to powerful weaponry designed more for the battlefield than for sport. I recently made a somewhat Swiftian proposal to the effect that teachers may need to be armed to protect their young charges. But one could easily imagine a pitched shootout of the OK corral variety occurring in a second grade classroom with the terrorized children cowering under their desks.
         Still, there is precedent and a model for “meaningful” action in response to mass killing of elementary students in Japan. Surely, US authorities could bang their heads together and come up with something better than locking the barn door after the horse has escaped. And something needs desperately to be done about the easy access to weapons of mass destruction.

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